Definition of belles-lettres in English:


plural noun

  • [also treated as singular] Essays, particularly on literary and artistic criticism, written and read primarily for their aesthetic effect:

    ‘he inspired me with the desire to restore writing on art to nineteenth century belles-lettres’
    derogatory ‘elegant dabbling in belles-lettres’
    • ‘Books of literate and entertaining essays on occasional topics - what used to be called belles-lettres - are no longer common, and that is a shame.’
    • ‘Lowenstein notes that the exclusion of Jews from prestigious professions such as the higher bureaucracy, military, and judiciary stimulated cultural creativity in more open environments such as journalism and belles-lettres.’
    • ‘'With an Essay on Style' and 'Essays from the Guardian' encapsulate his engagement with Victorian periodical journalism and belles-lettres.’
    • ‘This is downright impossible unless you reach for the treasury of belles-lettres, for its rich variety of expression.’
    • ‘We review both belles-lettres and nonfiction.’
    learning, scholarship, erudition, education, knowledge, book learning, academic training
    View synonyms


Mid 17th century: from French, literally fine letters.



/French bɛllɛtʀ//bɛlˈlɛtr(ə)/